The International Press Institute (IPI) called today for the immediate release of 15 Kurdish journalists and one media worker arrested on June 16 on terrorism-related charges in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. Due to restrictions imposed on the case file, case details and accusations against journalists remain unclear. However, local news reported that prosecutors questioned the journalists about “news content, publishing policies and news language”.

On June 8, at least 22 people, 19 of whom were reportedly journalists working for several news outlets including Mesopotamia News Agency and JINNEWS, were detained during simultaneous raids on their homes and offices. Police confiscated journalists’ cameras and other equipment.  Amongst those arrested are Jin News Managing Editor Safiye Alagaş; Dicle Fırat Journalists Association Co-Chair Serdar Altan; Mesopotamia News Agency editors Aziz Oruç and Ömer Çelik; and Xwebûn Managing Editor Mehmet Ali Ertaş. According to news reports, camera operators Esmer Tunç, Mehmet Yalçın, and Kadir Bayram and JINNEWS editor Gülşen Koçuk were released under judicial control after eight days in detention.

Protests organized by local journalism groups erupted as a response to the journalists’ detention have spread to several cities in Turkey. IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavas attended a demonstration on June 23 in Istanbul organized by Dicle Firat Journalists Association (DFGD) and Mesopotamia Female Journalists Platform (MKGP) where local groups read a joint press release in Turkish and Kurdish calling for the journalists’ immediate release.

Local groups gave a strong message of solidarity against arbitrary arrests. They also underscored their fear that Turkey’s crackdown on independent press would increase if a current draft bill to criminalize “disinformation and fake news” is passed. A spokesperson for the groups, journalist Canan Yıldız, said that the form of the systematic crackdown on journalists has shifted from journalist killings in the 90s to mass arrests today. Pro-Kurdish HDP MP Musa Piroğlu, who was also among the protestors, stressed the importance of condemning violations against journalists without discrimination. “As the arrest of the journalists in Diyarbakır is not only a matter of the Kurdish people, similarly the upcoming disinformation law is not only a matter of the press”, he said.

“IPI has been monitoring and raising serious concerns about mass arrests of journalists in Turkey, especially in pro-Kurdish and Kurdish-language media”, Akyavas said. “It is highly concerning that lengthy pretrial detentions, arrests, and restrictions on case files continue to be regular state practice to prevent critical voices and the flow of information to the public.” 

“We stand in solidarity with our detained colleagues and we continue to call on Turkey to stop these arbitrary arrests. All 15 journalists and their fellow media workers should be released without delay.”